CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - An organization of African American attorneys is calling for Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac to fire a white officer who the chief said used the N-word as he arrested a black woman.
The Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati wrote the chief a letter “concerning the conduct of Officer Dennis Barnette while he was on duty acting under color of law.”
The incident occurred early Dec. 23 outside a Roselawn nightclub after the woman resisted Barnette’s attempt to arrest her by pushing him, the chief wrote in a Dec. 26 email to City Manager Patrick Duhaney.
“We are shocked and appalled by his behavior, and we are calling for a zero-tolerance policy for Cincinnati Police Officers who engage in such conduct on or off the job,” wrote Donyetta Bailey, the association’s president,
"A police officer is in a position that requires trust and respect from the community, and officers must be free of racial prejudice when engaging with the public. The Cincinnati Police Department is not free from a history of racism and discrimination towards members of the African American community, but, through the implementation and continued support of the Collaborative Agreement, we’ve taken great strides.
“The use of racial slurs by one of your officers takes us back to a dark time that we’d rather not revisit, and his actions should not be tolerated,” the letter states.
“We are calling for the termination of his employment because he violated the position of trust and respect that his badge commands and we are no longer confident that he can engage in biased-free policing in our City. We also believe that you need to send a message to other officers and the community that such behavior will not be tolerated and that your officers are here to protect and serve the entire community without consideration of race.”
Police officials recently released body camera footage capturing Barnette and a second officer, Donte Hill, saying the N-word during responses.
Officer Hill said it at a family trouble run on Sept. 26, the chief wrote Duhaney in a Dec. 28 email.
Barnette, who is white, was stripped of his police powers, gun and badge and placed on desk duty just days after his body camera caught him saying the ‘n-word.’ An internal investigation into the matter remains ongoing.
On Dec. 27, a member of the police investigation section told the chief “Officer Hill’s conduct was as egregious as Officer Barnette’s and that I needed to view the Body Worn Camera footage,” the chief wrote Duhaney in a Dec. 28 email.
The chief has now suspended Hill’s powers, too, and sent a memo explaining the situation to the city manager.
Isaac, Mayor John Cranley and other city officials have said this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee is holding a special meeting Friday at 10:30 a.m. on the issue of racial slurs and bias training.
Cranley, Duhaney, the police chief and other city leaders also held a news conference last week to announce their new policy for employees who utter racial slurs.
Duhaney said he noticed many office policies didn’t have strong or clear discipline requirements. He said he revised the policy in October, covering misbehavior to make it clear what is expected of employees and supervisors.
He said he feels the policy now has ‘fair discipline’ that would hold up in court.
That discipline includes 40 hours of pay lost, sensitivity training and rehab. A second offense would result in termination.
All employees also will now receive cultural competency and bias training, including officers.
But the new rules don’t go far enough for the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati.
“I was in shock that a police officer would say that and then more so as the day went on shocked by the mayor and city manager and police chief’s lack of response. I just feel like in 2019 we should not even be having a debate about whether an officer who used a racial slur should be fired.”
She said the city’s new proposed policy that would suspend an employee who uses a racial slur for 40 hours on first offense followed by termination on second offense doesn’t go far enough.
“I think that’s crazy. You are saying as the mayor of our city and as the police chief of our city and as the city manager of our city that the use of racial slurs will not be tolerated and that policy doesn’t say that. It doesn’t go far enough for the community.
“I think the city is using that as an excuse not to discipline the office and we don’t support that narrative. I feel like to hide behind a policy to give you a free pass is absurd. I feel like it brings us back to the days before the Collaborative Agreement when the police and the community were at odds. I feel like it’s important to send a message that we are not going back there. Our city is better than that now – or at least it’s supposed to be.”
The black attorneys' letter to the chief only calls for Barnette to be terminated, not Hill.
“We weren’t made aware of that situation at the time or else we would have commented and responded at that time,” Bailey responded.
"We stand behind our letter: Zero tolerance for any officer who uses a racial slur is what is required.”